Marvel’s Daredevil “Nelson v. Murdock” Review (Episode 10) – Beginnings and Endings

Beginning Ending Daredevil

When friends fight, it’s never a good time. That’s especially true when those friends have as much history between them as Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson. In a way, I suppose best friends get it the worst. All that goodwill between them cancels out most minor conflicts that may arise, but it leaves them vulnerable to the really bad stuff. And when that stuff gets through, it leaves wreckage in its wake. Nothing hurts like being hurt by a best friend.

SO!

On this happy-go-lucky episode of Marvel’s Daredevil, the inseparable Nelson and Murdock face off in the living room court of personal opinion as Foggy tries to process the revelation last episode that Matt is, in fact, the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen. Meanwhile, Ben chooses to bow out of the Fisk investigation to take care of his ailing wife, which prompts Karen to employ shady tactics to keep him involved. And while Wilson’s new “legitimate businessman” persona seems to be working well for him, his remaining partners in crime are less than pleased. Someone finally takes a shot at the King, and Vanessa suffers the price.

Most importantly, we get to examine the friendship that has been the heart and backbone of the series thus far, visiting its beginnings even as we are watching its apparent end.

I’ve seen some people complain that not enough happens in this episode; that it’s annoying to keep returning to the same living room every other scene for more of the emotional argument between Foggy and Matt. I… just… don’t agree with those criticism at all. This episode gave me EXACTLY what I wanted from this story — to sit down and watch the characters really deal with this. To take us through all the logic and all the arguments that arise from such a monumental revelation.

In a way, it’s giving us something we’ve never seen in a live action superhero production. Because of the nature of movies and network television, any time we’ve seen a supporting character learn the hero’s identity, it’s always been a moment of shock followed by a cut to black or extenuating circumstances that leave the characters no time to hash things out, and no time to reflect, because in network and film, we’re always on the clock. These revelations are shallow, used for their emotional punch, but never delving into the actual internal ramifications of such a reveal.

I’m even having trouble recalling this sort of scene playing out in many comic books, where we’ve had 80+ years to explore every possible avenue of superhero storytelling. The closest I come is 2001’s Ultimate Spider-Man #13, where the entire issue centers around the conversation between a teenage Peter Parker and Mary-Jane, wherein he reveals to her that he’s Spider-Man. At the time, that comic felt revolutionary — and it was! There were no punches, no action, just two characters being put through their paces. It’s the same with this episode of Daredevil.

How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up?
 

One Finger Daredevil

We open with Matt, battered, bloody, and barely stitched together the morning after Foggy’s discovery. Thanks to an off-camera visit from Claire (I guess Rosario Dawson had to go make movies or something), he’s stabilized, but in more pain than we have ever seen him, and, we can surmise, than he has ever experienced. He’s at his most vulnerable, which makes it the perfect time for a righteously furious Foggy to needle him with questions.

Here is another episode in the tradition of the rarely-referenced episode 2, featuring intimate one-on-one interactions with flashbacks to deepen the narrative. As Matt and Foggy — well, mostly Foggy — air their grievances, we jump back to defining moments in their relationship, with each flashback lending context to the present day argument.

The first hard question Foggy throws at Matt — “Are you even really blind?” — triggers the first flashback, which shows their first meeting, as new roommates in college. From the very beginning, Matt is captured by Foggy’s humor and irreverence, especially with regards to Matt’s blindness. He’s used to being treated like glass, so to find someone who, after knowing him for only a few minutes, can casually acknowledge, be funny about, but not dwell on, his disability, is a refreshing change for Matt. It lays the bedrock for what will become the basis of their friendship: absolute unjudgemental honesty.

Which is funny when you realize that Foggy is the only one being honest. All the little mannerisms Matt adopts while trying to appear as a normal blind person stand out as clear as day with Foggy’s question looming over the scene. We know Matt is lying, and now that Foggy knows, it sheds a new light on all past interactions, beginning with their very first. The spell is broken and we can see Matt performing rather than just existing.

There is also a clear parallel between that scene and the present day one: as flashback Foggy calls Matt a hero for saving the old man from the oncoming truck as a child, present day Foggy is forced to confront his animosity toward the masked man. Foggy once idolized his friend — now he’s faced with the possibility that his idol might be the very thing he despises. It’s only one of several crises Foggy faces in this episode.

Ecto Gammat
 

Foggy Hurt Daredevil

Each segment between Foggy and Matt is like a little vignette, a riff on a theme; you can almost view them as a writing exercise. Take two characters, throw in a subject, and see what they say! The second such vignette is all about Matt’s Powers; how he learned to fight, what exactly his heightened senses enable him to do, and what implications that has on his past behavior. It includes two moments that I’m especially fond of, as well as probably the best line of the episode:

“A blind old man taught you the ancient ways of martial arts. Isn’t that the plot to Kung Fu?”

The first great moment comes when Foggy voices my exact thoughts on the scene with Karen from episode 1, calling Matt’s listening to another person’s heartbeat without their permission “weird and invasive.” It’s good to know that the writers of the show are conscious enough to call the situation what it is rather than try to pretend it’s all acceptable under the auspice of “superhero comics!” It’s also cool to think the scene in the first episode may have been filmed to highlight the intimacy of the moment specifically to support this viewpoint in episode 10. So much artistic thought and intent put into this series! Argh! Eloquence failing! SHOW SO GOOOOODDDgggglllhhh…

…Sorry.

The second great moment comes immediately after the first, as Foggy realizes that every time he’s ever lied to Matt, Matt has known, and played along in order to keep his secret. This is THE crushing blow for Foggy, and it’s not hard to see why. It highlights the voyeuristic nature of Matt’s abilities. He can “see” the truth, always. He can know your intimate details, your secrets, the things you might keep hidden out of modesty or embarrassment. He perceives it all, but he won’t tell you. He can’t. Doing so would turn him into a freak in most people’s eyes; an oddity to be avoided, feared, or worse, eliminated.

This harkens back to the scene in episode 1, where Karen changes her shirt in front of Matt, figuring there’s no harm in doing so because he’s a blind man. I’ve seen criticisms saying that Matt should have turned away or stopped her to avoid being a creepy peeping tom, but I don’t think those critics fully realize what’s happening in that moment. Matt fears exposure. He can’t give any outward sign that he can perceive what she’s doing — and even if he were to turn away, it wouldn’t change anything, because he perceives his entire world around him in 360 degrees. Facing away would only clue Karen in to something Matt can do nothing to prevent. Matt will not risk turning himself into a victim, so he must remain the unwitting violator. There can be no middle ground for him (or so he thought). It’s not the most awesome position to be in, and I think the show knows that. It simply presents the situation without judgement and lets the audience make their own.

The show gains extra points from me by acknowledging that perhaps Matt was doing the wrong thing all along, even though a typical superhero show might vapor over the moral implications of his secrecy. In this episode, Foggy realized that, for as long as he’s known Matt, he has been on the opaque side of a two-way mirror, and Matt never told him he was being watched. Aside from the obvious betrayal in that — and here I’m just going off of Elden Henson’s wonderful performance — he also likely feels more than a little shame. Only a sociopath feels no guilt for lying. A lie compounds itself; becomes a self-perpetuating cycle in which we lie to hide what we fear the other person knowing, and in so doing, the lie itself becomes the thing we must hide, so we lie to hide the lie and so on and so forth.

Foggy just learned that the shameful cycle of lies we all put ourselves through as fallible, feeling human beings, has been exposed, out in the open all along, and his friend never told him.

How would you feel?

El Grande Avocados
 

Friends 4 Ever Daredevil

All this brings Foggy’s next painful question to the fore — “Was anything ever real with us?” — which launches us into my favorite scene of the episode: drunken Matt and Foggy stumbling through their college campus at night, laughing together and talking about their pasts and future. This is really the scene that establishes what’s at stake in the present. This is their friendship at its purest. They’re drunk, their inhibitions are down, and it’s plain to see that, yes, it’s real.

And yet… and yet… even as they show genuine affection for each other, we still see Matt’s lies, like a blemish on an otherwise beautiful surface. His performance is so natural, so ingrained in him, that he embellishes on it without thinking, searching for a stair he knows is there, or more blatantly, stopping himself from referencing his heightened senses in conversation with Foggy. The irony of that moment being that most people have heard of blind people’s other four senses amplifying to compensate for their missing fifth, so it’s Foggy who references his delicate senses instead of Matt himself.

You could assume here that Matt’s near slip up is due to his inebriation, but I get the sense it’s more a sign of how relaxed and natural he feels in Foggy’s presence. Matt is someone who lived a lie every day of his life, even before becoming a vigilante. So, for him to be comfortable enough to speak openly about his secret, it’s significant. It shows that he truly does love Foggy. That he wants to tell the truth. But he can’t. For some reason he just… can’t.

Later in the episode, we return to the thread of Matt’s lies when Foggy hits him with the declaration that, had their roles been reversed, Foggy would have told Matt everything. Matt is caught off guard by this, and the only response he can muster is, “You don’t know that.” But, maybe he does. The episode has shown us, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that Foggy is a creature of absolute, unflinching honesty. And Matt is not. Foggy embraces his vulnerabilities; doesn’t hide them, and doesn’t let them define him. Matt does.

Lack of honesty isn’t the only thing Foggy throws in Matt’s face, with him joining the chorus line of characters calling Matt out for his addictive behavior. Foggy surmises in no time that in the long gap between his abandonment by Stick and his first outing at the masked man, Matt kept training, kept himself in fighting condition. Maybe, Foggy says, the secret identity, the crusade, is all just an excuse for Matt to go out and hurt someone. Foggy knows his best friend, and Matt can’t really deny it.

The episode ends with both men in tears, and Foggy walking out rather than contend with more of Matt’s excuses. Whatever foundation of trust existed between them before has fractured, and it’s kind of heartbreaking. It hurts to see two people who so obviously love each other unable to come to terms. Even if they’re fictional characters. Shut up.

Things We Hold Onto
 

Happy Couple Daredevil

There are other important happenings in this episode — in fact, you could say the B and C plots feature the MOST important moments in the larger story — but they take a back seat to the drama in Matt’s apartment because we want to see Matt and Foggy work things out. (shut up)

The first of these begins with Ben visiting his alzheimer’s-stricken wife in the hospital and learning that she will soon be evicted. This prompts him to reconsider and reevaluate his priorities. He can keep searching for a crack in Fisk’s armor with Team Daredevil, or he can bow out, take a better-paying editorial job at the paper, and focus on caring for his wife. Ultimately, he chooses the peaceful life, explaining to Karen that while Fisk is important, it’s not the MOST important thing to him.

That’s when this episode shows us the dark side of Karen’s obsession with stopping Fisk. She convinces Ben to take a ride with her upstate, to a hospice she heard about that might be a good fit for Ben’s wife, thus allowing him to continue their quest. Of course, Karen is manipulating Ben, preying on his vulnerability to get him to do what she wants him to do. Her investigation has revealed that Fisk’s mother is still alive, despite the story he is putting forth in the press, and living at the nursing home that she tells Ben about.

Now… I like Karen, but this is a straight-up dick move — and, compared to the things Matt is being rebuked for across town, this seems so much worse. She is blatantly choosing to put her crusade above the importance of Ben’s ailing wife and financial struggles, and she’s doing it in the most underhanded way possible, luring Ben to their next clue under the guise of finding help for his wife.

This is also part of what makes this show great. It lets its hero characters do the wrong thing, and doesn’t pretend it’s right. Good people make mistakes sometimes. Good people are selfish. This adds a new dimension to Karen’s character, showing what she is really capable of getting what she wants.

While one protagonist has his sins called into the light, another is busy committing perhaps the worst of hers (though, we still don’t know the details of her shady past, so who knows).

((I’m going to take a quick moment to ask, has anyone else noticed the weird alzheimer’s thread running through the Marvel Cinematic Universe? First we saw it in Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the elderly Peggy Carter. Then we see an almost identical scene play out between Ben and his wife in this episode, and in the same episode, we get a similar scene between Karen, Ben, and Wilson’s mom. Is something — some evil corporation or alien artifact — causing an outbreak of alzheimer’s/dementia in the MCU?? Or, is this just one plot device that’s been leaned on a liiiittle too much? It’s the closest I’ve come to a criticism of this show so far.))

The other major event this episode occurs at a banquet thrown by Fisk as a thank you to the donors who have helped him raise money for… I dunno… rich person stuff. He delivers a somewhat stilted speech, meets Senator Cherryh face to face (I guess we’re getting more of that subplot this season than I originally expected), and then watches as everyone in the room, including Vanessa, goes into convulsions after being poisoned by their champaign. We leave on the image of Wilson holding the fallen Vanessa in his arms — foam streaming from her mouth — and calling for help.

Who dunnit? Is it Nobu’s clan taking revenge for their leader’s demise last episode? Is it the deceptively wily Mrs. Gao making a preemptive attack before Wilson can turn on her? Or is it sleazy Leland making a play for the big seat? (He is the only other character, aside from bodyguards, who isn’t poisoned.)

Or could it be Wesley? It’s not entirely unheard of for the Kingpin to be betrayed by his consiglieres in the comics, and with the level of dedication we’ve seen of Wesley up to this point, it would certainly make for a surprising twist, AND keep with the theme of dangerous secrets and friendship betrayals running throughout the episode.

But… he brought Vanessa to Wilson when he needed her most in episode 8! Can we trust Wesley? Can Wilson? We’ll see next episode!

The final beats of this episode really lets us know that we are revving up for endgame. Three more to go!

Costume Watch:
 

Proto Matt Daredevil

Instead of an upgrade this time around, we get to see DD’s proto-costume!

During one of the episode’s flashbacks, Matt tells Foggy about his first vigilante outing, beating on an abusive father who Matt overheard “visiting” his daughter’s bedroom at night. It’s a brutal scene with some heavy and thoroughly adult overtones (remember, we’re just shy of an R rating here, and it’s GREAT!), so, naturally, the best thing for me to do right now is talk about fashion.

Sweats, a hoody and a blindfold. Matt just can’t help but let people know he can’t see; that he doesn’t NEED to see. I’d almost call that another of the show’s flaws, that no one has pointed out in all their run-ins with the man in black that his mask has no eye holes. Maybe they just assume he can see through the cloth? I mean, obviously he CAN in real life, or the action scenes couldn’t be as intense and in-the-moment as they are. It just looks so… “blind superhero” to me. Show some subterfuge for frag’s sake! The red mask better have eyes, is all I’m saying.

Easter Egg Hunt:
 

Rooftop Garden Daredevil

– Is that the rooftop garden from the first Spider-Man? I think it is! Cool! Not at all an easter egg because they exist in two different cinematic universes, but cool nonetheless.

– THE GREEK GIRL!!! During their second flashback, one of the many things Matt and Foggy rib each other about in their drunken ramblings are the lengths to which each of them have gone to meet girls. Matt accuses Foggy of learning punjabi just to get close to a girl in the class, and Foggy hits back that Matt only took spanish class to get close to “that Greek girl.” Hey, you know who’s a Greek girl? Elektra’s a Greek girl! “What ever happened to her?” “Ahh. Didn’t work out.” Understatement of the century? We’ll learn in season 2 (probably).

– The banquet at the end takes place in a building owned by a Mister Van Lunt, who Leland refers to as having an astrologer that he trusts implicitly. I knew the name, but had to go digging to remember from where, so, I admit, this one isn’t so much thanks to my amazing memory as wikipedia’s. Cornelius Van Lunt, in the comics, is a multimillionaire supervillain who goes by the code name “Taurus” and is a member of the astrologically themed Zodiac criminal cartel.

Now, here’s where my memory DOES come into play. Zodiac is at the core of the Agent Carter One-Shot that acted as a proof of concept for the TV show we got earlier this year. Now, the show does technically overwrite the events of the One-Shot, but that doesn’t mean a similar mission can’t have taken place in official MCU continuity, which would mean that Wilson’s business partner Mister Van Lunt may have ties to the same organization Peggy encountered. Is it possible this is some guerilla foreshadowing for the second season of Agent Carter?

Please join us for next episode’s review, which will have us walking “The Path of the Righteous.” Subtle reference to Nick Fury’s grave stone? Find out in a few days!

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